Satsvarupa's Apology Letter
May 10, 2004
Dear disciples, friends, and family of devotees,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Im going to start by falling at your feet and asking for forgiveness for
a mistake I committed a year and a half ago involving inappropriate dealings with
a woman. Ill tell more about this later in the letter. I want to thank you
for all of the outpourings of love and support I am receiving in the many letters
coming from godbrothers, disciples, and friends. In this letter, Im going
to answer some of the questions that have been raised. You have been waiting too
long for these answers. I will also continue to respond by letter to each of you.
Lets start with the first question.
Question 1: Can you please explain what happened?
Answer 1: For the past twenty years, I have been
contending with the dominant battle in my lifea painful and serious disease.
Ive tried to treat this disease in a number of ways. For ten years I took
no medicine of any kind, either herbal or allopathic, while receiving treatment
from a naturopathic doctor. Naturopathy did not relieve me of my pain, nor did
it make me better. It simply left me underweight and anemic. I wont bore
you with the list of alternative medicines that I tried. From acupuncture
to Ayurveda, I have tried them all. But there were no positive results. When I
first started with allopathic treatments, I tried over-the-counter medicines and
soon wound up with what are called rebound headaches, where the cure
itself gives you headaches. I went to a doctor, who prescribed more sophisticated
and expensive medicines, which gave me a few days off from the pain, but these
too created rebound headaches. It was despairing to live each day with constant
and acute pain. Somehow, in the hours in between pain, I managed to write, including
letters. I even pursued a lot of traveling and visiting temples. Sometimes I would
give a Srimad Bhagavatam class and afterwards I would have to lie down in a van
in my bed all day. Then I would give another Srimad Bhagavatam class the next
Devotees didnt recognize symptoms of migraine and many still cant.
They didnt realize how sick I was. The travel and lecturing only exacerbated
my condition. Finally, my health almost reached a complete breakdown. As some
of you may remember, I was Guru and/or GBC manager for a geographic zone including
Ireland, much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States, the Caribbean,
Vancouver, and Gita-Nagari farm. Over time, the weight of this service began taking
its toll on me until, with the illness, I was often confined to bed. This occurred
simultaneously with a crisis in the GBC itself and dissatisfaction within the
members of the movement over the zonal guru designation. At this time,
I resigned from the GBC. I tried to keep traveling as a sannyasi even with the
realization that travel worsened my headaches. While many events in my life led
to this condition, severe headaches were first triggered by my experiences as
a manager and zonal guru. My work in ISKCON in these capacities involved
doing kinds of services for which I was not well suited. My psychophysical nature
is more to be a poet and writer and lead a quiet life, not to be doing management
and quarrelling with godbrothersit hurt me to have to face my
duties in this way. Finally, I found a psychiatrist M.D., who accurately diagnosed
me as suffering with anxiety disorder, the apparent cause of the migraines. Additionally,
when I worry that Im going to get a headache, the worrying itself actually
causes a migraine. This is called anticipatory anxiety syndrome. He prescribed
that what we must do is stop the pain. This became our priority. He said that
the side effects of medicine were not as dangerous for me at the present moment
as complications from chronic pain.
At the same time, I should enter counseling and fully occupy myself with trying
to improve my situation with this kind of health treatment. I began to try to
balance my healthcare needs with my responsibilities to Prabhupada and my disciples.
The choice of counselor did not work out. First of all, especially for a sannyasi,
its not ideal that the counselor and the client be of different sexes. Among
devotees, however, there were not many counselors from which to choose. This person
was recommended by a close disciple and another devotee counselor because she
had the same disease and had received treatment for it. In fact, she had not been
formally trained as a counselor. At first, we began working by exchanging correspondence.
By telephone, she would give me different practices to do like breathing and listening
to certain tapes that aid a person with my condition. Anxiety disorder is actually
a widely prevalent disease in the United States, which affects millions of people.
There was not too long ago a cover story about it in Time Magazine. She recommended
that we have person-to-person sessions, in which she could try to confront the
anxiety disorder. At first, this work produced some good results. Unfortunately,
a naturally occurring emotional attachment between the counselor and client was
mishandled. As soon as we realized what was happening, we saw the danger of itme
being a sannyasi and she a married woman. We talked seriously and decided
that we had to stop our counseling, and end our friendship, having no contact
at all. I see no reason to go into further detail except to say that we did
become physically intimate and this was wrong.
Question 2: Why were you silent about the inappropriate
action until it had been exposed?
Answer 2: We did not see the need for it since
the relationship had been completely closed. My disciples and many others could
suffer because of just one incident. To broadcast it all over would simply cause
more harm than good. Those who theorize about the truth and say that anything
other than broadcasting is a cover up have a technical and theoretical
definition of truth, which is not necessarily absolute. I saw a higher morality
in continuing on with my devotional service by working through this test on a
daily basis in counseling, this time with a trained male devotee counselor. I
felt I was rectifying the mistake within my relationship with Prabhupada and Krsna
and that the greater good would be served by trying to protect my community of
Question 3: Why did it take so long to hear from
you after the news came out?
Answer 3: An anonymous letter was sent to the
Sannyasa Minister, who began an investigation. Dissatisfied with the pace of the
inquiry, the anonymous author posted his story on the Internet. I had already
responded to the Ministry as well as the GBC Executive Committee and they had
asked that I not write my letter to my disciples in order for them to have time
to conduct a proper inquiry. Out of respect for their request, I did not communicate
with you directly at first. This accounts for why you didnt hear from me,
why I was silent. You had to hear rumors about me while I could say nothing from
my side. I had to wait for the GBC to come to their final conclusions and it took
a long time. I was on pins and needles every day waiting. At the end, I felt I
was again collapsing from the pressure that was building. I was waiting for it
for myself and I was waiting for it for you. My hands were tied; I could not tell
Question 4: Why did you continue operating the
press if you knew you had a problem?
Answer 4: Since writing and publishing is the
lifeblood of my service to others and to Krsna and Prabhupada, I went right ahead
with it. It is stated in the Nectar of Devotion that if a devotee commits a mistake
he does not have to perform some atonement or prayascitta. He just picks himself
up and goes right on with his devotional service. So I acted in that way.
Question 5: Why did you keep initiating?
Answer 5: Actually for several years it has been
my intention to stop initiating because of my chronic ill health. Every time I
take on a disciple it involves so much entanglement for me in that persons
life and in that persons family, which may include their in-laws and many,
many domestic problems. I am slowing down with old age and I want to use my remaining
vitality for attending to the disciples that I have and for doing my preaching
work. I actually declared an event that would be the very last initiation. Since
then because I am soft hearted, a few people have snuck in. These
devotees were highly recommended and in some cases had been waiting for years.
Question 6: Are you still our Guru? Can you care
for the disciples you have?
Answer 6: Yes. I am happy to be Guru of the family
I have. You and I have developed very loyal and loving service exchanges. Together,
we are producing innovative service that is helping the whole movement. Throughout
the world, as spiritual master and disciples we are carrying on Prabhupadas
mission by preaching through management, farms, book sales, seminars and academic
studies, deity worship, devotee care, business, and family life. There are myriad
forms of Krsna conscious expression and Krsna and the spiritual masters appreciate
them equally when done sincerely and wholeheartedly. This is the fruit of our
guru-disciple relationship and is pleasing to Prabhupada and Krsna.
I have learned from letters that not only my disciples but also devotees and nondevotees
all over the world continue to be inspired by our preaching. Srila Prabhupada
gives the example that when one is hungry and one eats, one does not need a certificate
to show that he is satisfied. Only you can say if you are satisfied being my disciple.
Only you can say if I am still your Guru. No one can sever our relationship or
the connection between you and me and Srila Prabhupada. This is our eternal relationship.
You are helping me in my old age, to do things I couldnt do alone. You dont
just cook meals for me but you use your advanced life skills to get things done
on my behalf. Let us use the power of our connection to spread Krsna consciousness
together. Preach on my behalf and allow me more solitude at this stage of my life.
I want you to know I see the love in your hearts and know you receive the love
that I am giving. You see me as a human being who is struggling but fully accept
me as your spiritual master. You are fighters. You are nurturers. You are my family.
Question 7: Are you still my link to Prabhupada
Answer 7: The main thing I have told you is to
follow the teachings of Prabhupada and Krsna, right? Gurus teach their own realization,
in their own voice. I have linked you eternally to Prabhupada and Krsna. The fact
is that some disciples may or may not follow their Guru, and they may or may not
follow Prabhupada and Krsna. We all have free will. So, my dear disciples, I will
stay loving and faithful to you but perhaps this current event may separate those
who love me and are faithful to me from those who are not. The U.S. Marines induction
poster reads, the few but the proud. Read volume three of My Letters
from Srila Prabhupada and youll see what a few hundred percent fixed
up devotees could do for their spiritual master and how he could give them
individual care in his own way.
Question 8: How do I stay personally connected
with you from a distance?
Answer 8: I have already explained my inability
to give you direct vapu association on a regular basis. We should remember that
very important statement that Prabhupada writes in the concluding words of Caitanya-Caritamrta.
He says after the passing away of his spiritual master that he still feels that
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami is always by his side giving him directions
what to do. I feel something like this when I write and serve Prabhupada. The
Srila Prabhupada Murti is very helpful if you have one. You can keep some pictures
of me and of course read my books and it is a kind of vapu. I wouldnt believe
this unless I had heard it myself many times from devotees who say they feel more
with me when they read my books than when they gather and see me. They actually
experience things that way. Because I write so personally every time, every day
they read my books they feel that all their questions are
Answered, all their doubts are removed, and they
have a grand time being with me personally. When they go to a gathering they get
distracted by other people being there, by an inevitable feeling of envy towards
other devotees, and the travel, etc.. They see me sitting on a chair, and if time
allows, there may be an opportunity for us to speak personally. But when they
are reading the books they also feel like they are talking to me directly. You
may find some devotees who have this experience and talk with them and then youll
believe it. Better yet I hope you can experience it yourself and see that its
true. I also want to encourage you to gather together, and in association, practice
Prabhupadas and my teachings. Someday, my body will be gone and what will
you do then? Please take this seriously and connect authentically with our spiritual
family members, study my books together, and develop the relationships that will
help you in your Krsna consciousness. Prabhupada said, Your love for me
will be proven by how well you cooperate together when I have gone. I say
also that your love for me will be proven by how you come together now, while
I am here. Help each other, find real and lasting devotional friendships, and
make relationships based on care and honesty. Then later, when I am gone you will
have my books and each other to carry on.
Question 9: If I dont feel full faith in
you as before should I go on serving anyway?
Answer 9: I ask you please to not lose faith.
If you do feel some loss of faith then go on serving anyway. The service itself
is so powerful that it will sustain you and gradually bring back your faith. After
all our main connection is service to please Krsna and to please Prabhupada. It
will be a healing method; the service will bring you closer to me and gradually
remove your doubts. Although you may have heard me tell lots of Prabhupada stories
from the 11 years that he was here, I saw him relatively few times. Prabhupada
himself said he saw his spiritual master only about 11 times. But Prabhupada was
always engaged in his service and that made him feel staunchly connected. Dont
dwell on this fault I have committed and dont listen to people who talk
anything bad about me. Go away from their presence. Go on with your service to
Krsna and pray for our loving bond. Stay with disciples who have a positive, loving
attitude toward me. If they are not living near you then write to them regularly.
Question 10: When we get together as disciples,
how can we help, care for and nurture each other and what do I tell others?
Answer 10: I dont think you should try
to just cover things over politely. Some may be more on the strong side or faithful
side. Others may be more on the weak side and perhaps even afraid to speak up
about it. Some may be openly doubtful. I think at these meetings everyone should
be given a chance to speak. At the beginning there should be a designated person
to set boundaries for this kind of a meeting. There should not be blasphemy. Frank
questions should be asked and those who have faith and knowledge should try to
answer them. In other words, a positive and not a negative conclusion should be
the goal of the meetings. Its not that one person is acting as a know-it-all.
But I would hope there would be at least several people there who will have faith
and enough information, from their experience with me, reading books, and reading
these recent letters, and in touch with my representatives to know the answers
to this situation. We are not trying to lie and say that I did no wrong. But we
are taking a realistic look at it and saying there is every reason to continue
to go to me as a spiritual master and not have an artificial view of the spiritual
master, that he is on a pedestal and never makes mistakes. Think of all the good
that I have done for you and the good I am willing to continue to do for you.
Such meetings should be upbeat but there should be a time for facing negative
and doubtful questions. When the questions are not satisfied, the doubter can
ask again and again, until he is reasonably satisfied. If he is not satisfied
then he/she should be told to take their time and write more to me or my representatives
because time can heal wounds. Pray to Krsna that these wounds will be healed.
Question 11: What about taking another Spiritual
Answer 11: I would advise you not to turn away
from me and be in a hurry to take a siksa Guru and reject me. I dont think
Ive done anything so wrong that it cannot be discussed realistically, within
the bounds of the sastra, and we can see the justification for me to continue
being your spiritual master. It is reasonable and sastric to give me forgiveness
and continue to trust my word. Ive set the grounds for my own humility and
making of mistakes in my books and now I have actually fulfilled the role in real
life. I have laid the foundation for you to make mistakes as well, for me to accept
you, and for you to accept me, on the basis of us being imperfect human beings.
And I have made a place for us to have not merely an institutional relationship
but a real relationship of people who may see mistakes but, out of love, overlook
Question 12: What is your current treatment status?
Answer 12: There are concerns that my use of
medication is addiction rather than treatment. My doctor oversees my medicine.
I talk with him regularly, and according to my symptoms, he may decrease or increase
dosages or take away a certain medication. In addition, my treatment team monitors
my health daily and, working with my doctor and counselor, track my progress through
daily logs. I do not take medicine on my own whimsy but under my doctors
guidance. I have pain control now with decreasing complications. I believe we
can build a sustainable recovery based on rest, recuperation, and regularity.
I am able to function peacefully in my present treatment environment.
Question 13: What are your current spiritual
Answer 13: When I first began to assimilate the
medication and their side effects, I found that they made me sleepy and it was
difficult for me to sustain my quota of sixteen rounds. This was some time ago.
For many months, I have been holding to sixteen rounds a day, and if I miss, I
make them up the following day. For those who want to know, I follow the four
regulative principles. I have a very regular schedule of rising early in the morning
and chanting with the devotees, followed by writing and reading. Soon we will
be bringing my new Prabhupada Murti into my house and I am expecting Gaur-Nitai
deities to arrive as well. I like to worship my deities closely as part of my
daily routine. The rest of my day includes writing letters and painting pictures
of Radha and Krsna and Gaur-Nitai.
Question 14: Is there some connection between
your painting, your avant-garde writing, and the fact that you had that mistake
a year and a half ago?
Answer 14: This is my devotional service to Prabhupada.
I think of it as holy. My first publishing was in Back to Godhead magazine. Surprisingly,
the first poems to go in the magazine were beat, free verse poems and Prabhupada
liked them. These examples are in the Handbook for Krsna Consciousness. After
reading one of them, Prabhupada looked at me and said I like this. When we were
chanting Hare Krsna and the light of the sky was going in and out My pleasure
was so great I was afraid lest I be swept to Indras heaven and there given
a chariot ride down the length of the rainbow. Whereas here on earth, standing
on Houston Street, I can chant the holy name of Krsna and He is with me (kindly
dancing on my tongue), Who is the Source of Everything. One time there was a meeting
of the whole BBT, who brought in a sales expert to see how sales could be increased.
The man asked us what the purpose of Back to Godhead was and I knew he was looking
for commercial answers. I couldnt help but remember hearing Prabhupada say
that the purpose of Back to Godhead is to give my devotees a chance to write just
as I am writing books so my disciples should learn how to write and Back to Godhead
is a vehicle for that. Im bringing up this incident of the old days and
the Back to Godhead under the larger topic of change.
Some of my disciples and readers are complaining that my writing has changed over
the years from the more standard, what they call the straight stuff
or more exactly how Prabhupada writes in his books. They see that I write differently
in a more avant-garde style and with my own personal voice. Its true that
in the twelve years in which Prabhupada was with us I wrote very much the way
he wrote. He wrote me many letters praising my articles and most of my essays
were taken from Srimad Bhagavatam and written up into articles, almost an imitative
style, like his. They werent exactly cloning but they were retellings. He
especially liked my retelling of the entire Ramayana in one issue even though
it was drawn from a book he hadnt translated and commented on. Just before
he passed away, I also published a semi-scholarly book, Readings in Vedic Literature,
in which I did a lot of historical criticism of the first pioneers who translated
the Vedas with a Christian bias. He liked that book. He said I had read the rascals
without being contaminated by them. After he passed away, my original vocation
returned, to be an original writer. I started writing again in my own voice, in
my "adopted religion." More accurately, my religion is not adopted.
In one of his speeches on a record, Prabhupada said Krsna consciousness
is not an artificial imposition on the mind but it is the original energy of the
soul. So my original Krsna consciousness started to become expressed in
this vein as a New Yorker, a boy with a certain amount of experiences in a tone
of his own voice. People liked it more and more and Ive written in that
direction. That is the change that people have noticed. I dont think it
is less holy or less parampara. It is less carbon copy and it is certainly not
a cloning of Prabhupada. But I remember back to those beat poems that he liked.
He never wrote poems like that and yet he appreciated when we came out with them.
My writing continues to change. It is a kind of code to break and read. Its
easy but you have to understand the writings by reading them my way, not just
expecting to be spoon-fed in the way we have read doctrine or traditional theology
in the past. There is a poem by William Carlos Williams, which was to his wife
(and to everyone of his readers). All this was for you, old woman. I wanted
to write a poem that you would understand. For what good is it to me If you cant
understand? But you got to try hard (January Morning 1932)
Please stay with me to crack the code.
The same is true of my paintings. They are simple, innocent. I did not go to art
school to learn to paint like this. For thousands of years people have painted
in a primitive or naïve style and many people have been attracted to it. In the
mid-20th century a great revolution occurred and top painters rebelled against
the previous centurys concepts of beauty such as Greek sculpture and the
renaissance. Painters like Picasso and Miro and many other modernists began painting
in very free style not regarding the official codes of the beauty that one learned
in the academy. The leading advocate of this kind of painting was Jean DuBuffet,
and he called it arte brute. In America, they usually call it outsider art. It
is now very popular, and some outsider art sells for a million dollars. It is
appreciated for its lack of pretentiousness and its raw truthfulness. People also
make sculpture out of found objects and its similar sometimes to jungle
cultures. Some of this has even been done in India and there is a wonderful charm
to it that cant be matched by taught artists who have very strict standards
of what beauty is. I have painted and shown paintings so far in two
galleriesGovinda Gallery in Washington, DC and the gallery in the Nuyorican
Café on the lower east side of New York City. I received a very good review for
my work by a Washington Post art critic, who saw the paintings and described them
as awfully exuberant. I mention this to point out that the painting
is preaching. Ninety percent of my paintings are Radha and Krsna, Gaura Nitai,
or Krsna subjects like cowherd boys. Everybody knows they are Krsna paintings.
But I paint them in a modern style. Not exactly copying the admirable paintings,
which are the illustrations in BBT books but in a more outsider style, which is
all I really know. It is also good therapy for me in treating my disease. So I
ask you please not to see my avant-garde writing, which is thoroughly Krsna conscious,
and my original painting, as something that is drifting from the original Satsvarupa
das Goswami because it is not "straight stuff," scriptural teachings
like other sannyasis are doing or that its not more exactly like Prabhupadas
books. My works lead one to Prabhupadas books. I receive letters from people
saying that they couldnt approach Prabhupada until they approached me.
Question 15: Can we visit you?
Answer 15: Sometimes I may leave my more reclusive
spot in California and go to New York where I stay in my disciples home.
When I am in New York, I am sometimes able to tolerate more visits, but I have
to be careful to limit the number of visitors as I find it can be quite stressful.
I hope to increase my association by audio and video presentations that you can
see as a group or with your family. Regarding personal visits from friends, sometimes,
Ill be having a good time talking with a friend and getting good instructions,
but at the same time the downside is so heavy that it almost outweighs the good
advice and the uplift of being with the saintly person. I have to go to my bed
right away and it may take hours for me to recover from the benefit of association.
Sometimes if people have traveled a long distance they expect to stay a few days
or even a week. Im sorry to have to say this but I really dread these kinds
of visits. Even from close friends. It means I have to see them the next day or
at lunch and again. This builds up and builds up more and more anxiety for me.
Remember how I described my disease as anticipatory anxiety with accompanying
migraine. I become anxious about another meeting and another meeting. My body
wants to rest but I have to meet. It is something Im forced to do by the
situation and I have to take more pills to get through it. By then Im locked
into the situation.
Question 16: Are you associating with other devotees?
Answer 16: I live in the association of several
devotees and count on the many members of Gita Nagari Press around the world for
their on-going involvement with me in my writing, editing, production, publication,
and distribution of my creative work. * * * As your spiritual master, I want to
know if in your heart the crack of faith has occurred. I am sorry that I did wrong
when I started working alone with a devotee woman. But you did wrong if you placed
me on a pedestal, thinking that Im not a human being who could commit a
mistake. In the Bhagavad-gita it says that even a person who commits a bad mistake
should still be seen as a pure devotee, provided he is determined in his Krsna
consciousness. I was very vulnerable at the time I made the mistake and Im
trying to become strong again. I pray and I promise that such a mistake will not
happen again. I want to continue our relationship as spiritual master and disciple.
Yes you should see me as human not as perfect but you should trust me to guide
you despite my mistake. Think of all the years in which I have guided you rightly
and forgive me just as I have forgiven you so many times. The best thing I can
do for myself now is to mostly stay alone with a few assistants and restore my
health in such an atmosphere. The best thing you can do as disciples is to become
strong in your sadhana and principles, and to meet together as my disciples. Write
to me and my appointed representatives with any questions. Pray that you will
not lose faith and not allow this to weaken our bond. Time can heal things and
is on our side. Please use it in that way. Now let us pray and ask for this blessing.
And please read my books.
Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,
Satsvarupa das Goswami